Meaning and Purpose

The human condition is such that we all must unavoidably experience loss and pain. All of us suffer to a greater or lesser extent depending on our own personal interpretation of the loss. Your belief about what an incident means will determine to a large extent the amount of distress you have.

If you believe in something greater than yourself, a higher power, or a mission in life, you will be more resilient than someone who does not.

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? The reason may be that you needed this challenge to grow, or maybe you believe that you are being led on a certain path. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, just the fact that you have faith in this principle is enough to reduce your stress.

I believe this, and can see how it has assisted me when things have gone sideways in my life.

Finding meaning will help give you the strength to get through difficulties from minor to catastrophic. Whether a co-worker “threw you under the bus”, or you suffered from a tragic death in the family, finding meaning in your suffering will ease the pain and help you to move forward.

My favorite book on this topic is Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. He was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived years of horror in Nazi death camps. One of the primary factors that helped him endure was his belief in what the experience meant, and what his purpose in life was. While at Auschwitz he would visualize himself after the war teaching at the University in Vienna. He knew that he could advance the field of psychotherapy, based on his research while living through unimaginable trauma. This deep sense of purpose drove him when there was nothing else to live for.

Here’s a visualization exercise that you can try. Imagine yourself 80 years old and near the end of your life. Looking back on your life, see the losses and trials that you have experienced, tempered by time and with the benefit of added wisdom. See how they took your life in a particular direction, how new opportunities opened up or new relationships were forged. In most cases the most meaningful experiences in life were not the easy times, but the times where you faced and overcame adversity.

Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to figure that out. Use these visualization techniques to help you understand the higher meaning in your life, and have faith that all your negative experiences will prepare you for your ultimate purpose.

That’s the hero’s journey. You’re on it. Looking for meaning and seeing the big picture will help you achieve resiliency and success.

Laughing at Misfortune

Can you look back on misfortunes or challenges in your past and laugh about it? Ok, well that’s pretty easy. How about finding the humour in your present difficulties? That’s a lot harder, but it’s also healthier.

People that can find humour in their problems, who can laugh at themselves and who don’t take themselves too seriously are more resilient.

Even research going back forty years showed soldiers returning from Vietnam had lower rates of PTSD when they were able to laugh when facing tragedy and trauma. Sometimes referred to as “black comedy”, this type of humour is common among police, soldiers, nurses and other emergency workers. Having the ability to joke about tragic issues such as death seems inappropriate on the surface, but studies have shown that it is psychologically protective. Of course we have to remember there is “a time and a place”, and the need to be sensitive to victims, however, the joking itself is not a bad thing.

When I was team leader for a police tactical unit in Northern Ontario, we had a guy that could always crack us up. No matter how cold and wet and tired we were, no matter how miserable the situation was, Ryan could always find something funny about it. He was relentless with the jokes. Although it didn’t seem like a critical skill in those emergency situations, I considered him a critical piece. Why? Because I knew that no matter how bad things got, morale wouldn’t spiral downwards, and team members wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the demanding situation because he would have them laughing.

Finding humour in difficulties helps to keep things in perspective. Also, similar to exercise, when we laugh our brains release feel-good biochemicals.

Laughing feels good and it’s good for you. What has you stressed, frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed? What can you find right now that is funny about it? Like I said at the start, it’s hard, but it works.